Sermon delivered on May 17, 2009.
Every Sunday morning, newspapers are delivered to households across the country and in the Sunday paper are a plethora of advertisements. Some of us may have looked them over before coming to church this morning. As we see the items including furniture, electronics, music cds and movie dvds, a thirst is created. “I would like this; I definitely want that. It would be nice to have this.” The advertisement is meant to plant a desire within us that will spring up in a visit to a store and finally harvested in a purchase of the item.
Hopefully, each of us is experiencing a different type of thirst every Sunday morning. The thirst is created also through print media but it is not delivered to the door of our house. It is sitting on our desk or table or bookshelf. This print media is of course the Holy Bible. I wonder how many of us read the Sunday ads and how many of us read the Sunday gospel for today? By reading the scriptures, we have an encounter with Christ and it makes us thirst for Him even more.
This thirst is accentuated by another practice: fasting. The church canons direct us to not eat or drink anything after waking up on Sunday morning. Why? To create a real, tangible, physical thirst and hunger for what we will receive later that morning: the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. This of course, compliments the spiritual hunger within our heart, mind and soul. I wonder how many of us had a breakfast of juice, toast, cereal or eggs this morning and how many of us skipped breakfast in order to read the bible and be fed by God’s word? Let’s return to the point in a moment.
This Sunday morning ritual is played out for us similarly in today’s gospel reading of the 5th Sunday of Pascha, during the Samaritan Woman’s encounter with Jesus at Jacob’s well (John 4:5-42). As soon as the woman comes to draw water from the well, Jesus asks her, “Give me a drink” (v.7) and according to St. Augustine, Jesus says this because He thirsts for her faith. According to many of the Church Fathers, Jacob’s well represents the Old Testament scriptures and we know they all are pointing to the coming Messiah. The woman is ready to draw from the well of the Old Testament and this leads her to Christ.
When we read the scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, the desire for Christ is planted within us and hopefully this will spring up in a visit to the Church and the reception of the Holy Eucharist. The final harvest will be manifested in what we do after we receive Holy Communion. We’ll also come back to this point later.
The difference between purchasing items seen in the Sunday want ads and drinking from the water that Christ gives is a monumental one. 13Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” The living water of Christ satisfies our spiritual thirst as the pleasures of this world never will (Augustine). Living water (the Holy Spirit) waters our parched human nature (Cyril of Alexandria).
The meaning of fasting is powerfully displayed in Christ’s response to the disciples when they tell Him to eat (v.31). Jesus says, “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (v.32). “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (v.34).
We, like the Samaritan woman, are naturally going to ask Christ for this water in order to quench our thirst (v.15). When we do ask, Christ is going to ask us to call our husband/wife (v.16). Lev Gillet says that, “Our Lord cannot communicate His life and grace to us as long as we do not overcome those moral obstacles which stand between Him and us. Spiritual life is not separated from moral life. “Go, call your husband” means “repent of your sin.” Free your soul from its idolatries (adulteries- five husbands) and let it come to Me, who will at last be its rightful husband” (YGL). “When in repentance she comes to the well of baptism, her sixth and true husband betroths her to Himself and rescues her from herself and her sin” (Romanus).
Fr. Paul Tarazi says that the living water is presented through Jesus’ word. That’s why we need to read the scriptures during the week. That’s why we read the epistle and gospel and that’s why the priest preaches during the Divine Liturgy. The living water of the Holy Spirit is given in the preaching of the gospel and this becomes the basis for the encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.
This fact is emphasized by the Samaritan woman, whom we now know as St. Photini, becoming herself an apostle to the Samaritans. Lev Gillet continues, “Her apostleship, however, takes the form of personal witness, which is quite different than preaching. The preacher says, “Believe this” or “Do that.” The witness says, “This is what happened to me.” There is much greater efficacy and persuasive power in bearing witness than in preaching. We are not all called to preach. However, each person can, in his/her own sphere, bear simple and humble witness to the graces God has bestowed (YGL).
As I said earlier, the harvest is determined by what we do after we hear the Word of God in the scriptures and preaching and after we receive Him in Holy Communion. Do we become apostles and witnesses through our own words and actions? In John 7, 37On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Is our heart flowing with the living water of God’s Holy Spirit, quenching our inner thirst? What about our tongue/mouth and our feet/hands? Are we giving living water to those who, after going through the Sunday want ads, are still searching for something more?
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.